Category Archives: novel

My Week In Writing (11/02/18)

bridgeA short update this week as it’s very late in the evening  – but I have big news!

My short story 3.8 Missions is going to be featured in Best of British Science Fiction 2017, an anthology from NewCon Press. The anthology will launch over Easter weekend. I’m very excited, to say the least!

Spurred on by my success, I’ve submitted some more short stories, including an entry for the BBC National Short Story Award 2018. Watch that space, just… not very closely.

In other news, The Green and the Gathering Tide has crept up to a tidy 197k so I anticipate hitting 200k (whoops!) next week. And I have finished The Lightning Pit, which was one of those short stories that more or less wrote itself. Looking forward to getting some feedback on it.

And I went to Inky Fingers at Lighthouse Books, which was a delight as always.

Next week, I’m hoping to finish my edit on The Summer Masque and finally make a start on a query letter (gulp). I’m also hoping to make it to The Wikipedia Slam at the Scottish Poetry Library. But mainly I plan to keep plugging away at my various novels.

 

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Adventures in Novelling: Worldbuilding

5310797124_810e65c51e_oI am not a patient person.

I give up on most computer games I try to play as soon as I get hard. I regularly re-read books and notice lines I missed entirely first time around because I was skim-reading. Editing is hard to me because it takes so much effort to focus on my own words, when I know what I meant to say.

A lot of writers of fantasy and science fiction talk about the prep work they do, they time spent researching and making notes and drawing maps and coming up with lore. I… don’t really do that. I don’t have the patience. I dive straight in and make things up as I go along.

Sometimes this results in magic. Sometimes it results in continuity errors. Sometimes it results in… well, one of my novels has three separate alternate worlds referred to as ‘the witching hour’, ‘the other world’ and ‘the land of fairy’ and I’m still not 100% on what the difference is. But I can use them each in a sentence, which for a first draft is the important thing.

The upside of this is, I’m very good at writing first drafts. I also know writers who spent so much time on research and map-making that they never seem to get to actually putting pen to paper.

I used to have that problem – a lot of my writing projects as a child were in actuality world building projects, with everything from drawing characters and animals to endless mapmaking to occasionally branching into lovingly constructed cardboard sculptures.

So, let’s talk about my current novel. While I’ve been working on the world of The Green and the Gathering Tide for a long time (a very long time) there’s a lot of parts of it I’m still unclear on because for most of that time, I didn’t think about them because they were boring to me.

When I finally did begin to put down an actual alternate history I ran into problems right away and ultimately had to throw most of my work out. The problem was sheer laziness. I’m not a patient person. I just slapped an extra island onto the British Isles. It doesn’t work like that!

The magic system and the fantasy material more widely I have fleshed out fully but I’m still a little hazy on how it meshes with real history – because I do want it to mesh with real history.

I just recently watched Lindsay Ellis’s video essay Bright: The Apotheosis of Lazy Worldbuilding, about the Netflix original movie Bright. Bright is set in a high fantasy world based on twenty-first century LA. The worldbuilding is, according to Ellie, not good.

Ellis describes Bright’s worldbuilding as ‘refrigerator magnet worldbuilding’: the world of Bright isn’t a fleshed out fantasy world at all. It’s just the real world, with fantasy elements stuck on top like fridge magnets.

It’s a form of bad worldbuilding I’m aware of but haven’t seen described so bluntly before. It’s something I worry about a lot in my own writing, because while I do want to write fantasy, I do also want to write about world. I’m not trying, in this novel, to create a fully immersive alternate world (not yet, anyhow).

But ‘unless otherwise stated, everything is the same’ will only go so far. At some point I’m going to have to think very seriously about the impact naturally occurring portals to other universes would have on world history. I’m going to have to think about where Wizards fit into the history of the Christian church(es). I’m going to have to think properly about non-human people and how that works.

For now I’m content having fun, laying down the bones of my plot, and exploring my characters. But a first draft can only take me so far. When it comes to my second draft – if it comes to a second draft – I’m going to have to be very patient.

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My Week In Writing (04/02/18)

Dscn0652It’s a month into 2018, and what have I accomplished? If I’m going to be brutally honest very little. Oh well.

I did not have the best week at work, for reasons I can’t go into partly because of privacy and all that and partly because all of them are actively distasteful in some way. However, I will say that a thing happened this week that prompted a ten year department veteran to say that they’d never seen anything like it before. So, that was quite something!

I went to the Edinburgh Literary Salon, where as always I met some interesting people and acquired a new Facebook friend. I also registered my interest with Super Power Agency, which seems like a really great project.

In other work-related news, this week I finished my second proofreading course. My final assignment was graded ‘good’ (previously two were merely ‘acceptable’) and I got a certificate.

The Green and the Gathering Tide is unfortunately sitting at only 192.k (a measly advance on last week’s total) as I’ve been busy. However I did start a new arc which I’ve been very excited about. It’s an action heavy arc (previous arc was a slow-paced character piece) so should be a nice change of pace.

I started a new short story, tentatively titled The Lightning Pit, which is for an ongoing collection of tie-in stories for my as-yet untitled trilogy. It’s a bit of a departure from previous stories – the other ones have all directly tied into the plot and characters of the main trilogy, but this one is set in ancient Rome and is an exploration of the world and concepts.

I’m still reading Alias Grace which I’m finding slow going. It did however, in a roundabout way, inspire The Lightning Pit so I’m getting something out of it.

I also finally finished Planet of the Rani which I found ultimately unsatisfying – I was gearing up for a reveal that I thought was a dead cert, but it never came. Genuinely surprised and disappointed to be wrong. Otherwise it was some fairly run of the mill Big Finish. Up next: Shield of the Jotunn.

And I watched the season two finale of The Good Place, which was… not quite what I expected. I all honesty I fully expected it to be the series finale, given the way season two went, but I’m pleasantly surprised that the series is continuing (hopefully). I’m reserving judgement on the new arc they’re setting up for now.

Next week, I’m planning to go to two open mics and hoping to have a better and less weird working week. Fingers crossed.

 

 

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My Week In Writing (14/01/18)

20180113_155702-1.jpgSame old same old – I didn’t have the best week at work but probably shouldn’t talk about that.

I’ve been trying to get back on track with my various projects and to that end I’ve been doing a final-final readthrough of The Summer Masque, with mixed success – I’m very much sick of reading it at this point and I find the first few chapters in particular quite tiresome. Also, I’m putting off beginning work on a query letter as I’m still stuck for ideas on that front.

The Green and the Gathering Tide hit 181k this week (almost 182k), which is somewhat terrifying as it’s still maybe halfway done at most. At present I’m working on an arc about very Catholic wizards having an uncomfortable family Christmas.

Officially I’m ahead on my Goodreads challenge, having read two books, but one of them was a miniature collection of Emily Dickinson poems so I’m not sure if that counts! In theory I’m currently reading Pulp Literature’s Summer 2017 issue but I’ve been struggling to find the time.

I’ve been bookshopping, with a book token I was given as a late Christmas present: The Last Unicorn, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Wide Sargasso Sea and A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Three books which have been on my to-read list for a while – exception being We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was an impulse purchase.

I went to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art yesterday, largely to meet some relatives for lunch (and acquire my book token) but it turned out they have an exhibition on about children’s book illustrations which was good timing as there were two small children in the party.

We also had a look around the general collection and saw some works by Ed Ruscha, who I’d not come across before and will probably be looking into further. Good time had.

I listened to the first half of Planet of the Rani and played a lot of Submachine – I just bought the entire series in HD so expect a post about that in the near (ish) future.

Next week, I’m headed off to London to go to the ballet.

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My Week In Writing (24/09/17)

shrink final

I’ve been busy! The above is where my novel is currently sitting, roughly speaking – it’s shrunk down a little more since then (about another hundred words) but you get the idea. I’ve renewed my subscription to Agent Hunter, and I have… a variety of query letter resources tabbed. It’s on!

In other news: Annique is sitting just shy of 35k, which is surprisingly short, given how long I’ve been working on it. It’s a strange project and while I’m determined to finish it, in all honesty once it’s done I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything with it.

I also started two new stories: one is tentatively titled Quiet, Loud and is about a werewolf who becomes an interdimensional police office. It’s part of the collection I’ve been working on and of all the stories I’ve written so far, it’s the one that I think would make the least sense to, um, people who aren’t me.

The other one is for Shoreline of Infinity’s flash fiction contest and it’s 371 words long, at present. I’m remaining hopeful that I can get it written in 1000 words or less by the end of the week – I’ve already had to scrap one idea for being too complicated.

I’m three episodes deep into The Night Witches, which is very enjoyable, so far. It’s what Big Finish does best – four episodes of solid Doctor Who. Looking forward to finishing it off.

I listened to the first episode of Doom Coalition 4, which was very strong and I really hope the rest of the boxset follows through.

I finished reading The Shock of the Fall (review forthcoming) and started reading The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden, which I’ve been looking forward to. I also reviewed Room on Goodreads.

Next week I’m off to the literary salon (hopefully – I didn’t make it to the creative salon) and settling back into work after a short and impromptu holiday.

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My Week In Writing (27/08/17)

20170826_142243Well, the festival’s nearly over. I haven’t taken in as much theatre as I’d have liked, but I suppose there’s still time!

This week, I went to see Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites at the National Museum.

The artefacts on display weren’t, for the most part, especially interesting to me, but the whole experience was really great.

I’d heard some complaints about how it represented the Jacobites themselves (in particular, there being almost no references to Gaelic speakers) but having seen it for myself I’m not especially troubled. It’s very clearly an exhibition about the Stuarts in exile, not about the ordinary Jacobites.

It’s a very heavy exhibition and gets heavier as you go along, but it also includes this delightful tartan suit so… I don’t really have a point. They’d put shoes on the suit, which made it look a lot less silly.

Then I went on a little trip to see Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2 for sale in the book festival shop, which was very exiting and very stuffy.

I finished reading The Dark Side of the Sun and reviewed it on Goodreads, and also worked through a little backlog of book reviews. And I read Shoreline 8 1/2, or the new short stories, anyway.  Thoroughly recommended, and not just because I’m in it.

I also finished a round of edits on my novel, so I’m now working very diligently to edit it down to a more reasonable length. It’s lost 2000 words already, and hopefully I can keep the pace up. So far it’s fiddly and a bit tedious, but not actually difficult.

Next week, I’m planning to start reading Strata and, hopefully, get another 7-10,000 words out of my novel.

 

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My Week In Writing (21/08/17)

20170807_220847Obligatory reminder that Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2 is on sale right now, for the low low price of £10!

That shameless shill aside: this week I went to the launch event for, you guessed it, Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2. Listened to some strange and fascinating music, heard some great sci-fi and fantasy from authors in the book, heard some bad jokes, the usual.

I also had the very strange experience of hearing my own work performed – apparently it was a last minute addition to the closing musical performance, so I found out as the performance was in progress.

My thought process was something along the lines of: 1) which story is this? 2) this isn’t very good. 3) Wait a minute. 4) Is this my story?

It was performed by Atzi and the Reverse Engineer, who do, respectively, sensational cello and ambient techno. A very strange, very atmospheric bit of music and ambient sound. They made my story sound way better than I wrote it. Go see them perform, if you were have the opportunity, because they were fantastic and also super friendly!

In other news: I have a job interview coming up this week, which I am most definitely not prepared for.

I’m now editing chapter eleven of thirteen of my novel, so this round of edits should be done fairly soon. I feel like this section probably drags a bit, but cuts are in the next round so I shan’t worry about that just yet!

While I’m talking (very regularly) about Shoreline of Infinity, they also have an upcoming flash fiction contest, which I’m hoping to enter, if I can come up with an ide.a Details here.

I finished reading The Thirteen Guests, which I found a little exposition-y, but it had a solid final twist (and ultimately, surprisingly little murder). I’m now reading The Dark Side of the Sun, largely out of interest in Terry Pratchett’s early work, but I’m actually enjoying it far more than I expected.

Other that that, if I’m going to be brutally honest, I’ve not been doing much at all. Here’s to a more productive week ahead.

 

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My Week In Writing (21/05/17)

20170521_175211Well, first of all the big news: I resigned from my job this week. I’m still hoping to find an entry level position in publishing, but I can’t stomach staying in my current job any longer. Four more weeks and I’m out. Hopefully moving to some kind of temp job. I’m trying not to think about it too much, when I’m not actively job hunting – this level of uncertainty is a terrible thing!

That out of the way: I started reading Summer and marking it up for a final round of edits. So far I’ve found two glaring flaws I’d previously missed, one of which I’m pretty sure has been there since draft one. I have no idea how I missed it for so long! I’m on chapter three, and stalling to do some minor re-structuring.

Settlement 359 has passed 140k and despite my best efforts, I’ve started a part eight, titled Freefall. Things kept getting worse and worse for my protagonist, so I rolled with it and now she’s struggling to recover from mental time travel-enduced amnesia. However, I’m pretty sure part eight will be the last one… I’ve been saying this for a while.

I’ve started work on an entry for Big Finish’s annual short story contest. Torn between two ideas, not sure which is best, and as I don’t have to have a completed story to enter and I can submit more than one, I might as well try and do both.

Speaking of Big Finish, this week I listened to a William Hartnell era Lost Story called The Dark Planet, which was both a fairly typical sixties Doctor Who story, exceptionally dark, more or less impossible to do on film now let along fifty years ago. I’m not surprised it didn’t get made. It’s fascinating listening, though.

This week’s Doctor Who, Extremis, was absolutely phenomenal. Beautifully executed mindscrew and absolutely terrifying – my only concern is how they’re going to top it with the (by the looks of it, more conventional) follow up!

I started reading Darling by Jackie Kay, which is slow going because you can’t just rush through a poetry collection, you have to pause and contemplate, y’know?

Next week, I’m planning to listen to some monthly range Big Finish stories with the Fifth Doctor (my fav!) and start reading The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, the last of my birthday books. Otherwise, I’m job hunting relentlessly.

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How I wrote a novel on purpose: Ash

“The wind’s blowing from the north.”

I don’t say anything. Above us, the sky is solid black, and the wind tastes like smoke.

“That’s a good sign, ye ken. Your mother’s a north witch.”

“I suppose.” I look at my trainers. The toes are scuffed to hell and back. They’re starting to pinch. We were supposed to be going shoe shopping next weekend.

“You’ll be a north, one day.”

I look up at Heather. She’s smiling down at me nicely, her bobble hat pulled low on her head. That soft, sympathetic smile I’m going to be seeing a lot of shortly, and I’m already sick of it. “I guess.”

Up until last November, I’d never done National Novel Writing Month properly. Although it’s not enforced, technically the rules request that you start a completely new project rather than continuing something you’ve already started. Almost all my NaNoWriMos have been continuations of existing projects.

(And before anyone asks: no, of course I didn’t count what I’d already written towards my NaNoWriMo total. I started a new document each time and ‘married’ the sections together later. I don’t know why some people find this difficult to understand!)

Come late October 2016, I had two projects I wanted to work on: my 2015 NaNoWriMo, which was a fairly successful attempt at my ‘big’ novel, and Settlement 359. Both were, at the time, stalling. Neither thrilled me. As late as the first regional meeting, I still hadn’t made my mind up.

Then, on the night of October 30th, I had a dream. My dream went something like this: I was a teenage girl in some kind of magical world. I was sent to live in a big house with several other girls (one was a young Natalie Portman). The house had magical paintings on the walls that were part of a protection spell.

After a spell in the house (ha) I was menaced in the garden by a demon that took the form of a hooded figure. It moved very slowly towards me and it was important that I walk rather than running away, if I wanted to escape alive. After that I was taken out of the house and to somewhere safer.

I woke up, and thought there’s a YA fantasy novel in that dream. Then I thought, this is fate.

So, come November 1st, I started an entirely new novel, with an entirely new fantasy world. I went in with a solid idea of how magic would work in this world and the ‘demon in the garden scene’ as my goal to work towards (I figured it for an act one climax, of sorts).

Otherwise, I was winging it. I threw in new characters whenever I got bored. It’s in a first person voice, which is a first for me in long-form fiction. The central plot twist came to me in the bathroom at work. It was all very exciting.

I wrote about 70k during the month of November and this past January I finished it off, bringing it up to 83k, which isn’t too bad for a rough first draft.

What’s it about? This is the ‘official’ blurb at present:

Ash’s mother is a witch. Ash’s mother has disappeared. Locked in a safehouse for young witches, Ash tries to make sense of what has happened and of her destiny, but the force that took her mother is closing in, and a snap decision to protect a human girl threatens to break everything apart.

It’s structured, I hope, a bit like an unfurling flower. It opens in a world very like ours, but with the occasional witch. Each bit of new information given about witches, their origins, and their powers, renders the world they live in stranger and more alien. About halfway throught, the main character and her friends journey into the Land of Fairy and it just gets weirder from there.

Ash is on hold at present, until after I finish editing my other novel… and writing my other other novel… you get the picture. But it was a lot of fun to write and I’m very pleased with the result – looking forward to writing that second draft, just as soon as I have the time.

“This is Fairy, Ash. Anything is possible.”

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My Week In Writing (7/5/17)

20170430_205810To be quite honest, I’ve had a hellishly busy week – two job interviews + a meeting to discuss volunteering + an anthology deadline. And then next week, I have two more job interviews! And after that I’m going to Berlin. So, that’s going to be a fun ride.

Settlement 359 is now sitting just shy of 132k and I really hope it’s coming up on the climax, though as I’m still not 100% sure what said climax is I really don’t know. But I am coming up on a scene I flashed forward to earlier in the novel, which is always exciting.

Summer is coming along nicely as well. I made a proper list of all the edits I still need to make and I’m working on 1-2 a night. I’m optimistically aiming to get this draft done in a month or so.

I submitted my story for The Temporal Logbook II. I’m not 100% satisfied with the finished product – I only managed to find one person to read it at such short notice and he found it confusing, which is a difficult criticism to take on board because it was supposed to be confusing. Just, in a good way. I hope.

I started re-reading The Circle Opens by Tamora Pierce. I got through Magic Steps and Street Magic, the two I read when I was a kid, and now I’m moving into new territory with Cold Fire. Once I’m done with all four, I’ll finally be done with all my Christmas books (hurray!)… and I’ll be able to move onto the books I got for my birthday. Starting with Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay.

I didn’t listen to as much audio stuff as usual, because I only worked a couple of days this week, but I did start listening to the third season of Jago & Litefoot, which in a delightful twist also features Tom Baker-era companion Leela. I’m about halfway through now and it’s probably my favourite season so far.

And I listened to The Children of Seth, part of their Lost Stories range. It’s by Christopher Bailey, who wrote some of my favourite Doctor Who serials (Kinda and Snakedance) and like his other stories, it’s dizzyingly confusing. I’m still not sure if I liked it or not.

Next week I’m hoping to finish The Circle Opens and listen to The Masters of Luxor, another lost story, this time from the William Hartnell era. And I’m going to Berlin, to see some museums and (I hope) eat some cake.

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